Sunday, February 5, 2012

week 4: baked rigatoni with fire roasted tomatoes

For Week 4 of my New Year's Cooking Challenge I decided to make dinner for my boyfriend, Erik. He's a hardcore meat eater so I decided to appease him (although just between you and me, I'm planning on slowly but surely introducing vegetarian meals into his diet) with a baked pasta dish with ground beef. I didn't make too many variations besides using rigatoni instead of ziti pasta, so I'll just link to the recipe I used from We both loved it and would recommend it as an easy change from the same old noodles and sauce.

Monday, January 23, 2012

cooking challenge week 3: whole wheat and millet banana bread

The third recipe of my New Year's Cooking Challenge was inspired my good friend Angela Hurley, a fellow lover of all things food and nutrition. She brought some whole wheat banana muffins to share at our bi-weekly small group for our church group, St. Paul's Outreach, and it was love on first bite. On top of the normal yummy-ness you can expect from banana muffins, these had an extra surprise: they were crunchy! I know you're wondering why you would want something crunchy in your muffins, but trust me, you do. The crunch in Angela's muffins came from the addition of millet, a nutrient-rich little grain/seed that is the main staple in the diets of many of the world's citizens (my roommate Joe subsisted on them for two months while studying in Senegal). The recipe Ang sent me (by Joy the Baker) was actually for bread, so that's what I decided to make. I made two loaves, one with chocolate chips (for Joe, who insists that no baked good is complete without chocolate) and one without. They turned out flawlessly, super-moist and with the perfect amount of sweetness. I highly recommend you try this recipe!

Whole Wheat and Millet Banana Bread
by Joy the Baker

- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs (I used a flaxseed substitute, 4 Tbsp flaxseed meal + 12 Tbsp water)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 4 medium bananas, mashed
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup raw millet, rinsed

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans and set aside (I actually needed slightly larger pans).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, oil, sugars, and eggs.  Beat until thoroughly incorporated.  Whisk in the vanilla, buttermilk, and mashed bananas.  Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Stir in millet.  Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Carefully pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients.  Use a spatula to fold the batter together.
4. Divide the batter between the two prepared baking pans.  Bake for about 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Banana bread will last, well wrapped at room temperature, for up to five days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

cooking challenge week 2: sweet potato and lentil curry

Sweet potatoes, lentils, and curry. Seems like a recipe for success, yes? My second adventure in cooking new things was mostly a success, but there were a few mishaps again. Oh well, you can't learn if you don't make a few mistakes, right? Although in this case I'm not exactly sure what went wrong, so maybe that doesn't actually apply here...

For my second week I decided to cook Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry, based on a recipe I found on I made a few modifications, which I designate in parentheses with the original recipe below. 

Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry
- 2 Tbsp medium curry paste (I used powder but mixed it with some oil)
- 3/4 cup red lentil (I used brown lentils)
- 2 bay leaves (I omitted) 
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, cubed
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated (I just used ground ginger)
- 2.5 cups chicken stock, made with stock cubes
- 4 cups cooked brown rice
- 1/4 cup coriander leaves ( I substituted about a tsp of thyme)
- salt and black pepper, to taste 

1. Heat a medium saucepan and add the curry paste. Cook, while stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the lentils, bay leaves, onion, and sweet potato, ginger and chicken stock. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the sweet potato is cooked. Season with salt and black pepper.
  • 2. Place the cooked rice on 4 serving plates, spoon over the curry and scatter with coriander leaves.

  • ---
    Overall I really enjoyed this dish, but there were a few glitches that kept it from being perfect. The recipe didn't specify whether the lentils should be pre-cooked or not, so I just added them dry. Despite my hopes that it wouldn't be too much of a problem, the sweet potatoes got done way before the lentils did. Afterwards, though, I think I might know why. The directions says to heat to boiling than reduce to low. Well, I forgot the low part. Nonetheless, though, I'm not sure how the lentils could be cooked to completion without overcooking the sweet potatoes. Another issue was a lack of flavor. It was fine, but I think I should have done more to substitute for the coriander, possibly by (a) either actually buying coriander or (b) using more thyme. Despite these mistakes, this is a great, easy-to-make dish. I highly recommend it! 

  • Sunday, January 8, 2012

    cooking challenge week 1: squash and flax soup

    Not the prettiest picture, I know. Honestly, it just wasn't the prettiest soup. 
    For the first week of my 2012 cooking challenge I decided to combine two of my favorite things in the world: squash and soup. While I adore squash and eat it every chance I get, I am ashamed to say that I have never actually cooked with squash myself. I found the recipe for Squash and Flax Soup while leafing through a fantastic cookbook my grandma gave me: The Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook by Tosca Reno (see bottom of post for more info). I liked this recipe because it combined the normal soup staples (onions, garlic, carrots) with some not-so-standard ingredients (sprouts, flax seed, sunflower seeds). It seemed like a good balance between old and new. And super healthy, of course. Shopping for the ingredients and cooking this soup was a blast and affirmed that this is a great New Year's resolution. Unfortunately, however, the final result was not so pleasant. Not because it was a bad recipe, but because of a (embarassing) flaw in my judgement. So I bought a package of sprouts that, when I eyeballed it, looked to be just a little more than a cup. And since I didn't want any of the sprouts to go to waste, I just dumped them all in. After tasting my soup, however, I seriously regretted this decision. I grabbed the container and a measuring cup and realized that I had probably put around 2 cups of sprouts in. And I could taste it.  The soup tasted very, well, sprouty! It tasted green when I wanted to taste the orange of the squash and the carrots! It's not horrible, but unfortunately I'm not looking forward to eating it again for dinner tonight. Moral of the story: improvisation with a new recipe should be undertaken only because you think something will taste better, not just because you want to get rid of something. Because you might end up ruining your whole dish, which is a much bigger waste.

    If after this story you still are interested in making this soup, I've included the original recipe below, with my modifications in parentheses. I would err on the low side with the sprouts; maybe just a half a cup would add a nice hint of green to your soup without completely overpowering it, like my 2 or so cups did. : (

    Squash and Flax Soup

    All the ingredients, minus the squash, which was already in the oven. 
      - 2 Tbsp flax seed, soaked (I use 2 Tbsp flax seed meal, which didn't need to be soaked) 
      - 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, soaked (I used dehulled kernels instead of the whole seed)  
      - 1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
      - 1 medium yellow onion, chopped 
      - 2 cloves garlic, passed through a garlic press 
      - 2 ribs celery, trimmed and chopped (I don't like celery, so instead increased the number of carrots) 
    Scooping out the seeds
    (which I saved and
    am about to roast). 
      -2 large carrots, peeled and chopped (I used 5 carrots to account for the missing celery) 
      -1 medium butternut squash, cooked 
      - 4 cups low sodium vegetable stock or water (I used water) 
      -1 cup sprouts, use your favorite (I used daikon radish sprouts and put in way too much...don't do that)  
      - 2 Tbsp organic apple cider vinegar (I used red wine vinegar) 
      - 1 tsp dried crumbled basil 
      - 1 tsp dried crumbled oregano   
      - Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

    Sauteeing the veggies. 
    1. Soak the flax seed in one bowl of water and the sunflower seed in another bowl of water for 1 hour.
    2. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Saute onions, garlic, celery and carrot until onions become soft.
    3. Scoop flesh out of cooked squash into a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add cooked onion, celery, garlic, and carrot. Add 4 cups liquid and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil. Puree these ingredients right in the pan with a hand blend. Blend until smooth. Remove from heat. Add all remaining ingredients including the soaked seeds, puree until smooth. Add sea salt and freshground black pepper. If the soup is still too thick add some water and puree again. Serve immediately.

    Don't heat over high heat, as doing so would destroy the vauable and volatile nutrients in the flax and sunflower seeds. If you reheat it, do so over a gentle, slow heat. Serves 8. 

    Source: The Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook by Tosca Reno

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    detoxing the right way

    Photo by Michelle Shefveland
    As the holidays end and the new year begins, the popularity of "detox diets" increases dramatically. The idea of cleansing our GI tracts, clearing out all the junk and eliminating toxins, is certainly very appealing. Most detox diets promise energy rejuvenation, glowing skin, and weight loss. Who wouldn't want those things? I absolutely believe that good food and exercise play an important role in these things; just look at the name of my blog! But the key word here is "food." Detoxing usually tells you to eat only one thing or nothing at all! It only takes a little common sense to see the flaw in this logic; your body needs carbs, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals to survive and thrive. Depriving it of its means of fuel, functioning, and healing is far from the recipe for health.

    That being said, I'm far from against the concept of "detoxing." Taking a period of time to be extra-intentional about what you're putting into your body is a great idea! The right way to "detox," then, is two-fold: eat only whole, unprocessed foods and drink lots of water and green tea. I found a great article that outlines a more detailed detox plan by Women's Health contributor Keri Glassman for you to follow that takes both of these into account. Good luck!

    Detox the natural way for extreme results

    (P.S. A detox is also a great time to try some new recipes! See my New Year's Resolution cooking challenge for some more inspiration!)

    Vitamin Wheel